Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Drama Fools

This week The Stage ran a piece on Old Vic New Voices' Steve Winter saying that he feels drama schools aren't preparing their graduates for the industry.

I agree. In fact, even though he hadn't said it then, I started agreeing with this the day after I left drama school. As I aimlessly wandered around the house wondering what on earth I was meant to be doing, I realised I had no idea about the industry. Was it alright that it was 1pm and I was still in my pyjamas? Was it OK that I wasn't entirely sure if I had enough money now that I didn't have a subsidised canteen to rely on? Was it acceptable to be absolutely bloody terrified?

Like most industries, you don't really know what it'll be like until you experience it. And my word, I had no idea about the acting industry until I'd witnessed every nudity-requesting, unpaid second of it. So I'm not saying that drama schools should be holding your hand every step of the way and not letting you leave until you've got a 6-month contract with EastEnders MINIMUM. But there needs to be some guidance. Now, if my drama school had sat me down and told me that being a graduate would mean I'd know my pyjamas so intimately that it'd make a newlywed couple blush then...well, I'd have demanded that they fastrack me through for immediate graduation. But seriously, I had no clue. Unless you're part of an acting dynasty then no one goes into this job thinking it's going to be easy but I do think, considering the amount of money they take from their students, that drama schools at least owe their young charges a bit of knowledge.

And it's not really industry knowledge that students need. Yes it's important to know how to conduct yourself in an audition and I seriously think drama schools should make their students aware of just how bleak casting calls can be but it's survival that's the crucial thing. Now, you might think that it's all about survival of the fittest and if people can't hack it then it's not the job for them but that's pretty mean. I started drama school thinking I'd be in a feature film within a few months and then, on that first day out in the real world, I thought I'd be lucky to be tagged in a Facebook photo. I felt alone, pretty confused and with no real idea what I was supposed to be getting on with. All I really knew was that putting a tea bag in with a letter to a casting director was supposedly not the done thing.

We had very few people come to speak to us while I was at drama school. We had a couple of actors (both of whom were in work), a representative from Spotlight and an agent who took one look at us and said he couldn't imagine taking any of us on. In hindsight, that was one of the best lessons I've ever learnt. But we had no one telling us that most of the time this job would be bloody horrible to you and it'll leave you with just enough hope that you daren't give up. We had one lesson where we told what commercial castings were like which was held by a tutor who hadn't worked professionally for 20 years. All I can say is that I wish I'd had at least one audition that was that friendly, supportive and left me feeling like I might just get the job.

So instead we were just flung out into the world with a cheap looking headshot and and a CV that means nothing. But maybe it's best that we're all just thrown out there and made to learn from our mistakes. I learnt to always remember people's names at agencies. I learnt that if someone tells you to prepare a serious monologue then you don't try and be a maverick and present a comedy one. I learnt to look up addresses before attending auditions so that I don't find myself turning up at someone's house and wondering if I'm about to murdered. I learnt that I should never have coffee before an audition.

So maybe I should be thankful to my drama school for not preparing us for just how brutal this industry can be. Maybe if they had told me then I wouldn't have stuck at it and slowly learnt all those lessons. Maybe those mistakes are what every emerging actor needs.

Except tax. Please drama schools, if you do nothing else for your students, tell them about tax. It's one thing making a tit of yourself in front of a director, it's another thing spending most of your adult life being terrified of HMRC.